Udderbelly, London Wonderground; 13th June 2014
WARNING: Contains Spoilers!
As I take my seat inside the inflatable purple cow, I’m struck by how close we all are to the small stage, grey-felted like a meeting room podium. How many acrobats are there going to be up there?! My guess of eight (based on the number of small black boxes lined up against the back wall, with a tidy selection of hand-balance poles, chalk-dust and other pieces of unrecognisable kit) turns out to be correct. Seven members of the Gravity & Other Myths company are acrobats, and the eighth, Elliot Zoerner, is a percussionist, most often seen tonight with an electronic drum-kit and lap-top in his own little corner, creating a live score – but at times centre stage as well, taking part in the games with everyone else.
Because, above all, A Simple Space is a communal experience of team spirit, good-natured competition, and togetherness. Amongst not just those on stage, but every single person inside the purple walls (and, interestingly, those outside whose exuberant weekend-starts-here chatter can be heard through the canvas when Zoerner falls silent). There is no enforced audience participation here, but there are opportunities to join in the games being played out by the company if you feel so inclined. We are included; Australian Gravity & Other Myths are generous hosts.
The most impressive balancing act the company perform – physical prowess aside – is between the carefully plotted elements of chance that facilitate real spontaneous reactions, and the precise choreography required for their own self-preservation in the vigorous ensemble acrobatics. Within the first 30 seconds they are building a 3-high tower, and they continue to make and break daring human structures throughout the hour-long show.
The performance is a series of tests – endurance, dexterity, balance and strength – all played by a team who are constantly on the verge of laughter, or naturally breaking into it. They seem to be having the best fun, and we are drawn into that. We may not be able to complete a Rubik’s cube whilst balanced on our head like Daniel Liddiard, or stand upright with another human being stood upon our face like Lachlan Binns, but we can join in the clapped, clicked and tapped physical rhythms of Zoerner (at least to a point), and we can hold our breath to see who gives out last, while Jacob Randell tries to beat us all in holding a handstand (his tactic to break down the last two company members into giggles with his noises of strain and discomfort isn’t really cheating, just competitive spirit).
A playful humour runs throughout the show and each artist brings their own personality to the performance in their pride at achievement, frustration at failure, and in the real exertion we see and hear as sweat drips down each panting face. The ‘concentration’ faces are a picture as the company race each other to create seven special somethings for us out of their props.
Physically, Gravity & Other Myths’ forté is acrobalance and pitching work. Their choreography is inventive and amusing, at times beautiful and at others blunt enough to make me flinch. Over the course of the hour we’re treated to so many moments of connection that we’re bound to see things we’ve never encountered before, odd basing positions, and novel balances. Early on, I’m impressed by the inverted trapeze, built from the ground up rather than hung and, later, by Jascha Boyce’s splits across the heads of two moving 2-high towers. I’ve never seen a 3-high tower with each layer facing opposite directions before, and an unusual ‘keepie-uppie’ routine between Boyce, Binns, and Triton Tunis-Mitchell enters a whole new realm of contact dance.
When the black boxes are bought forward and passed around the audience for us to take out coloured plastic balls, we are told, ‘When you throw, throw hard, ok?‘ As the acrobats get into handstand positions around the stage, we don’t need a signal. We’ve gone feral. We want to knock down these human pins, glad of another opportunity to join the games.
The final choreography of swung, spun and flung girls is as mind-boggling as fractals, and the calling out of the tricks’ names as they’re worked adds to the already zinging energy. The jazz of the backing mix keeps us relaxed despite the fast pace, and the routine is never frenetic, always confident.
And then, all too suddenly it’s over. Tears well up in my eyes. I’ve been having such a good time. A Simple Space is high-class performance, and also remains true to circus’ inclusive, populist roots. Yes, I’d see it again, with pleasure.